As promised, here is my report on the 47th Annual Fungus Fair, organized and hosted by the Mycological Society of San Francisco. I had hoped to attend with a similarly-interested friend, but that didn't work out, so I was on my own. What that means is that I wasn't as brave as I normally am and didn't to talk to as many people as I normally do. In a small group, for some reason I find myself more able to speak up and ask questions, but on my own I am a little bit shy. Therefore I spent only about 20 minutes wandering around the fair, absorbing what I could, and only about 10 minutes talking to a volunteer about identification. It was still fun and interesting. But would have been better with my courage-giving buddy.
Walking into the fair, the first thing you see is the kid-friendly area, and there were many projects for kids to do, from making mushroom paper to crafting their own mushroom out of curved paper bowls. Next was a dying station, with yarn being dipped into various vats of color made from mushrooms, and every color was represented. Then there were various tables for the different mycological societies in each county, plus a California lichen table (fascinating), plus a table for psychotropic mushrooms (natch). There were the requisite number of craft sellers, displaying everything from mushroom-themed socks to handmade scarves printed with mushroom spores. There were vendors selling mushroom kits, spore-laden sawdust and dowels, and of course t-shirts celebrating the event.
Probably the highlight for me was an enormous rectangle made out of tables taking up most of the room, lined with leaves and forest duff, with hundreds (thousands?) of mushrooms nestled within it, all labeled by group.
Classifying fungus seems a tedious business, with many thousands of different kinds of fungus in any given area. Upon speaking to a volunteer, I learned that common names are virtually useless, and that all mushrooms should be identified by their Latin names.
The real educational opportunity came when I went to the 'Mushroom ID" station and asked the volunteer there if he could identify some of the mushrooms in my yard from the photos on my phone. He looked a bit skeptical but said he'd try. Sensing his discomfort, I changed tactics and asked if he could teach ME how to ID the mushrooms in my yard. He smiled big and said, "Now THAT'S the right question!" We got right to work with an ID book that he had on hand (the author was there selling them).
Which leads me to offer this side note: This volunteer said that Californians should really consult only these two books: California Mushrooms by Dennis Desjardin, Michael Wood, and Frederick Stevens; and Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast, by Noah Siegel and Christian Schwartz.
Here's the mushroom that we worked on together, found in the wood chips by the asparagus patch (oh, and he said wood chips are the greatest surface for finding all kinds of mushrooms - apparently fungus loves wood chips):
The volunteer said nearly nothing could be discovered from looking at the tops of mushrooms, you really have to look underneath. Luckily I knew that and had taken a picture of that part, too:
The first thing you noticed is that this is a 'gilled' mushroom, which is in the group "Basidiomycetes." Basidiomycetes are further divided into Agarics (gilled mushrooms), Boletes (tubes, no gills), Chanterelles (veined and trumpet shaped), Club & Coral (simple or multi-branched), and seven other categories including truffles.
So, we go into Agarics, or gilled mushrooms, in my guide (NOT one of the approved guides) and then the next thing you look at are the spores. Well, the spores are inside the gills and it's complicated to retrieve them. However my guy taught me a 'cheat' - if you look at the mushroom above, can you see, directly below the umbrella, on the stalk, a line of color, sort of yellowish brownish? The bottom mushroom is the one that has a defined mark. That's called a 'veil' and is often the same color as the spores. So I know that this mushroom has a brownish yellowish orangish spore, kind of rusty. So that's a 'brown spored' mushroom. I look at that category next. Then it's a matter of looking at pictures and habitats until you find the right one. The stalk on this one has striations, or stripes, and there is some white mycelium on the base, so given its size and placement on rotting wood chips, I can be almost sure that this is Gymnopilus sapineus.
I like knowing things, and I like naming things, but naming a mushroom isn't terribly satisfying because, honestly, am I going to remember that? Um, no. So the next time I see one I'm going to have to go through the whole stupid process again, unless I keep a record. Which maybe I will.
Let's try another one, this one I'll do here on my own, without my star volunteer.
These are all over our garden.
Ok, it's gilled, so we start there. I don't see any veil at all, but the volunteer said that the edges of the mushroom umbrella are often the same color as the spores, so that would be black. Here I run into trouble. Are the gills 'decurrent?' Gee, I don't know, I'll have to look that up. Now I'm going down a rabbit hole about how gills are attached to their stems. I think these gills are adnexed. But that's not a choice in the book I'm using. So I'm going to go with 'free to adnate.' But then it wants to know if the cap is 'viscid' - so I have to look that up. It means sticky. I don't know, I didn't touch it, I will next time. Then it wants to know if the gills are 'autodigesting.'
You can see why this is frustrating. I have a new respect for mushroom scientists. And those that forage for mushrooms and manage not to kill anybody.
Screw it, I'm just going to look at ALL the pictures for gilled mushrooms with black spores. I just realized there aren't that many. Aha! I've come up with the same name that I came up with last year before I knew any better - Inky Caps - or Coprinopsis stercoreus. Lo and behold, the description says it has adnexed gills. TAKE THAT YOU STUPID GUIDE.
Ok, that's it for today's mushroom ID lesson, I'm starting to get heated. If any of you out there are expert mushroom identifiers, maybe you can come to my house and we'll go over all of this in person. I'd really appreciate it.